The largest of the Soviet helicopters based in Germany was certainly the Mil Mi-6 "Hook." In the late 1980s, three different versions of this helicopter were operational within the units of the Armeiskaya Aviatsiya based in the GDR. They did most of the heavy transport by helicopter and a handful of them were modified into airborne command posts. Now decommissioned and partially replaced in Russia by the Mi-26 "Halo," the Mi-6 was an old machine whose first flight dated back to 1957. The NATO designation "Hook" was certainly appropriate as this heavy twin-engine helicopter could carry 9 tons of cargo under sling or 12 tons inside its cargo hold. Twenty-six improved Mi-6A "Hook-A" were on strength with two of the four squadrons of the 239 "Belgorodskiy" OGVP (or Otdel'nyy Gvardeiskiy Vertoletnyy Polk - 'Belgorod' Separate Guards Helicopter Regiment) (1) at Oranienburg - a base with a name sadly famous (2) that was immediately adjacent to the north Berliner ring - at the time of withdrawing from Germany.
In the GSFG order of battle, this regiment compensated for the absence of a second regiment of tactical transport aircraft within the 16.VA. It was also under the direct control of this Air Army. The 239.OGVP moved from Siauliai in Lithuania to Fürstenwalde in November 1959. The regiment was then equipped with Mi-4 "Hound." It moved to Brandis in 1962, where the Mi-6 "without suffix" joined the ranks of the unit the same year. The regiment took part to Operation "Danube" (the invasion of Czechoslovkia) in 1968. The last Mi-4s left Brandis in 1971, whereas the new Mi-8s arrived in 1969. As for Mi-6, they gradually gave way to Mi-6A around 1971. The unit finally moved to Oranienburg from 1977 on.
The Mi-6A, which appeared in 1971, had an airframe with a longer lifetime and improved avionics. The AP-31 autopilot of the Mi-6 (the same as on the Mi-4) was so inappropriate that its use was simply forbidden... The 'A' version benefited from the new AP-34 autopilot. The hydraulic system was also modified and the variable-incidence wings of the Mi-6 (the pilot reduced their angle of attack during an autorotation landing) were now fixed. Mi-6 and Mi-6A were considered to be two different helicopters and the two different versions rarely were mixed within the same squadron. However, there was no external difference between the two versions, at least at first sight. The Mi-6 carried aboard an AI-8 APU trailer (above) necessary to start the engines when deployed in the field. This APU was permanently mounted on the inside face of the left clam-shell door of the Mi-6A. Thus, this new model had two circular holes drilled in that door for the AI-8 oil radiator and exhaust. The helicopters of the latest Mi-6 series, however, were upgraded with a fixed AI-8. The Mi-6A could carry up to 90 troops (65 previously) or carry a sling load of nine tons (sketch of the hook system at right).
Some Mi-10 "Harke" were observed and photographed in the GDR. Unfortunately, few reliable information about them are known. Testimonies and photographs report their presence in Brandis for a short period from the late sixties - some say 1968, others 1965. If their incorporation into the 239.OGVP is almost certain, their presence at Brandis is logical from a logistical standpoint (3). The Mi-10 had indeed been developed on the basis of the Mi-6, with which it shared a number of components including the rotors, their transmission systems and its two Solov'yev D-25V engines of 5500 hp. A witness recalls: "In 1971 or 1972, I saw three helicopters at Brandis. They were all equipped with a transport platform. They were parked at the end of the airfield, toward Altenbach. A MiG-21 fuselage was near the maintenance hangar. It seems that this MiG-21 was used for training with the Mi-10" (4). Beside some Mi-10 "Harke-A" (i.e. the original version, different from the Mi-10K "Harke-B" with a short landing gear) transport helicopters, at least one special Mi-10 was photographed in the GDR. An experimental version intended for tracking enemy radio transmissions was also developed in 1966. The latter, designated Mi-10GR Grebeshok (Cockscomb) carried a ventral container and two antennas housed in one thimble shaped and one spherical fairings, respectively, that were deployable at the front and the back of this container. The one in front, which housed an antenna associated with the Grebeshok system, seemed similar to the deployable antenna of the Mi-8R, of which at least two exemplars were identified in East Germany during the 1980s. There is nothing surprising about that, since this variant of the Mi-8 carried a Grebeshok-5. It seems that a single exemplar of that Mi-10 version was ever produced. The only known photo to date of the Mi-10GR (above left) is part of a series that was taken in the GDR in 1968 by the USMLM! Unfortunately, there is no evidence of Soviet origin mentioning the presence of this particular helicopter in East Germany (5). As for the transport Mi-10s, they left Brandis in 1972 or 1975 and moved to the Konotop maintenance center (ARZ). The last operational Mi-10 were removed from the inventory of VVS in 1989.
In the 1970s, Mi-6s began to be modified to carry out parachute landings. Cables for the parachute static lines were installed in the cargo compartment. A Mi-6A equipped with folding seats (at right) could accommodate sixty-one paratroopers. The "Hook" of the 239.OGVP went to airfields and training ranges like the one at Redlin near the Retzow Air/Ground Gunnery Range, to embark and drop paratroopers of the Separate Airborne Assault Brigades. Since all the entrance doors of the helicopter opened outwards, it was impossible to open them or keep them open when in the air. Prior to dropping paratroopers, the rear doors were removed and a folding tubular structure was blocking the opening so that no one would accidently fall out. When flights were completed, the doors had to be put back on in order to close the cabin. The rear doors were later modified to open inwards, making it possible to do this in flight. They were manufactured without blisters.
Forty-one stretchers and medical support equipment could be installed aboard a Mi-6 in medevac configuration (at left).
It was possible to remove this equipment at the unit level so the Mi-6s could be employed as cargo helicopters (and vice versa). The basic layout of a Mi-6TZ (electrical wiring modification, additional plumbing etc), however, should be done at a repair plant (ARZ). According to the testimony of Valeriy Belichenko, an Mi-6/Mi-6A pilot of the 239.OGVP from 1983 to 1989, there were no Mi-6TZ at Oranienburg during the time he was assigned to that unit. However, if Mi-6TZ were externally similar to their transport colleagues, the Mi-6A N°01 (c/n 0601V) based in Oranienburg in the early nineties, was uncommon. Examination of different pictures of this machine, which are available in the photo gallery (for which there is a link at the bottom of this page, and at left), reveals the presence of an external yellow pipe under the rear side doors on each side of the fuselage. These pipes were connected to a group of internal tanks under the floor of the Mi-6, then part of the eleven internal standard tanks that were mounted inside any transport Mi-6 variant. These pipes were connected to the pumps for refuelling the vehicles, providing a supplementary storage capacity to this former Mi-6TZ-SV.
Les réservoirs externes des Mi-6 étaient également utilisés en soute
pour ravitailler les véhicules (Mi-6TZ) ou afin d'augmenter l'autonomie de l'hélicoptère. Ces réservoirs, montés sur un bâti adapté, étaient aisément démontables comme illustré
ci-contre. © C.Brent.
Flying Command Posts
The aviation forces of the GSFG were equipped with two other particular variants of the Mi-6A. The first version was the Mi-6VKP (VKP for Vozdushnyy Kommandnyy Punkt), an airborne command post designated "Hook-B" by NATO that was developed on the basis of the series-produced Mi-6 especially by the Equipment Supervision Branch (ORO) at the 535th VVS Repair Plant in Konotop. Work on the first helicopter started in late 1972 and 36 'Hook' were finally transformed into Mi-6VKP at Konotop. The helicopter was designed for combat control of the troops of a combined army or air army. In addition to numerous means of communications (R-111, R-140, R-155 and R-409 radios), this variant was equipped with a forward "saloon" compartment to accommodate the officers in charge. The Mi-6VKP was only operational once it had landed, when various additional antennas were deployed outside the helicopter. Two telescopic masts usually were attached horizontally to the lateral supports of the main landing gear on each side of the fuselage during the flight. They were removed and deployed on the field with antennas attached at their top, once the helicopter had landed in an operational area. These masts probably could be assembled together because it has been reported that they could reach up to 19.5 meters high. Also, three folding brackets to hold an antenna were attached to the fuselage behind the left front side door. Two plugs to connect antenna cables were also available on the fuselage side in the same area.
This type of "Hook" could be identified by the four large blade antennas mounted around the rear of the tail boom in front of the horizontal stabilizers (the shape and the number of antennas could vary depending on the equipment carried) and by the large U-shaped tubular antenna placed under the tail boom. Another external feature of the 'Hook-B' was the lack of the external self-sealing fuel tank on the starboard side. However, a large fairing with an air intake was located in front of the usual location of that tank. It was a KO-50 kerosene heater (the same as on the starboard side of the Mi-8 and the Mi-10K) intended for heating the 'saloon' compartment of the helicopter! The Mi-6s heating and ventilation system was indeed insufficient, even for the pilots themselves... The Mi-6VKP photographed in the GDR seemed to be all equipped with a KO-50, however, it was not the case for the entire 'Hook-B' fleet. Gas generators were used on the Mi-6VKP for electrical supply. They were located near the right rear door. A small fuel tank was attached outside the rear starboard fuselage to provide fuel for those gas generators. A dozen of Mi-6VKP were spread among the separate squadrons - one or two per unit - that were assigned to the five Soviet ground armies and the 16.VA in GDR.
The second special variant of the "Hook" present in East Germany was the Mil' Design Bureau's Mi-6AYa (Ya for Yakhont or Ruby - the embarked radio system), also designated Mi-6VzPU (VzPU pour Vozdushnyy Punkt Upravleniya - airborne control post) also called Mi-6VUS (Vspomogatel'niy Uzel Svyazi - auxiliary communication node). The first helicopters were introduced into service in 1975 under their Mi-22 military designation, or "Hook-C" for the West. The Mi-22 was designed for combat control of the troops of a combined army and filled an important gap compared to the 'Hook-B', because it was litteraly a flying command post. Its antennas were also less conspicuous. The major external difference of a Mi-22 was a big blade antenna attached on top of the rear fuselage. Several smaller antennas were also protruding under the fuselage. The Mi-22 was also used as a ground command post: two short masts and a longer one were carried left and right, respectively, of the fuselage attached to the landing gear struts. This Mi-6A derivative was not equipped with an AI-8 APU. Instead, a TSA auxiliary power unit was mounted on the inside face of the right clam-shell door. The TSA had the same functions as the AI-8 and additionally, it provided electric power to the communication equipments once on the ground. Apparently, the 'Hook-C' had no KO-50 kerosene heater. The few 'Hook-C' seen in East Germany were deployed alongside the Mi-6VKP in the same units.
While the successor to the Mi-6 had been flying since the early 1980s, production and delivery of the Mi-26 took place at a slow pace and in limited quantities (only 150 machines would have been added to the inventory). Oranienburg was chosen to be the first overseas base where this new helicopter model was to be deployed permanently. Personnel assigned to the 239.OGVP would have been advised of this future upgrade to the Mi-26 in the early 1990s, and that unit conversion was imminent. Ultimately only a dozen "Halo" were to be assigned to 16.VA HQ to replace the Mi-6s; the performance and payload capabilities of the new machine largely compensated for the greatly reduced number of helicopters. The Soviet Union's collapse and the withdrawal of the 239.OGVP from Germany put an end to this project (information taken from "Beginning of the end" by Stefan Büttner, published in the November 2009 issue of "Aircraft"). Had the replacement of the 239.OGVP Mi-6s been realized earlier, it seems however unlikely that the replacement of the "Hook-B and -C" flying command posts in units of the OVE BU type would have occurred. There are indeed no known operational equivalent variants of the Mi-26.
With special thanks to Valeriy Belichenko for his unstinting help.
When the regiment arrived in East Germany in 1959, it was designated "Guards Helicopter Regiment."
The final unit designation was adopted in 1960.